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<em>Picture: ben hanbury</em>

Picture: ben hanbury

By Betty Kirkpatrick

Like Christmas, Hogmanay is associated with eating and drinking, although not usually now in that order of importance. Formerly, though, Hogmanay was more associated with eating, particularly if you were a child. It was the custom for children to go round the houses asking for a gift, usually a cake or something sweet, giving the festival the name of Cake Day.

Incidentally, the giving of gifts on Hogmanay is thought by many people to have a bearing on the origin of the word Hogmanay, although the etymology is uncertain. The most widely accepted suggested origin is that Hogmanay is based on the French word aguillanneuf, meaning first a gift given at New Year and then the festival of New Year itself. The clue is in the second part of the French word which reads l’an neuf, French for New Year.

Nowadays, Hogmanay is still associated with the giving of gifts and it is thought to bring ill-luck to a household if a visitor crosses the threshold in the early hours of New Year without some form of gift. This is particularly true if the empty-handed visitor is the first foot, first fit in Scots, the first person to cross a threshold after midnight has struck.

Sometimes New Year gifts still take the form of sweet things such as shortbread or the immensely calorific black bun, a kind of cake consisting of a pastry case surrounding an extremely rich fruitcake mixture. Sometimes the gift will be a piece of coal, traditionally given to ensure a steady source of warmth throughout the year, although this could be a vain hope in these days of soaring fuel costs.

Mostly nowadays, though, visitors at New Year will be clutching a bottle of whisky. Unless they are exceptionally generous or exceptionally drunk, the bottle of whisky is not actually a gift. The gift for the host is just a glass poured from the bottle which is hastily put back in the visitor’s pocket.

And at last I get to the reason for the title of this article! Forget the cake and even the shortbread and black bun. Hogmanay and New Year are now largely drinking festivals, a time when what Burns described in Tam o’ Shanter as “drouthy neebors” meet to see in the New Year in an alcoholic haze.

Drouthy, also commonly spelt droothy, means thirsty, although the thirst involved is usually a desire for strong drink rather than for water or other beverage. (In the quotation from Burns, neebors is Scots for neighbours.) Often the desire for such a drink is not just a thirst but an addiction. A drouthy neebor may well be an alcoholic one. Those of Tam o’ Shanter were almost certainly so.

Originally, drouthy referred to the weather and meant dry or exceptionally dry. I seem to remember that we used occasionally to have drouthy summers, but recently these have largely disappeared. They still have these in the south, although not so called, but they have become part of the north/south divide, leaving us with several inches of rain while our southern neighbours complain of a drought.

Originally, drought meant simply dryness and it is etymologically connected with Scots drouth, from which drouthy is formed. Both drought and drouth have their roots in Old English drugath.

Drouth can also mean thirst, and Hogmanay revellers are likely to have a great drouth on them. If they regularly give in to such a drouth too often, they may themselves grow into drouths, in other words habitual drinkers or alcoholics. Eventually, they may end up literally dying for a drink.

But away with such a depressing and sobering thought. It’s Hogmanay! Slainte! All the best for 2012!

Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.

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Street scene in Mogadishu <em>Picture: ctsnow</em>

Street scene in Mogadishu Picture: ctsnow

By Caroline Gluck

It’s hard to blend in during a community visit when you’re wearing a heavy flak jacket. But here I was in Mogadishu, the conflict-ravaged capital of Somalia, dressed not in the hijab I had just bought in Kenya, thinking it was culturally appropriate, but strapped into a bulletproof protective vest, weighing 10 kilos or more, slowing down my movements as I ran about trying to film the work that Oxfam is supporting and marking me out clearly as a foreigner.

I was part of the first Oxfam visit to Somalia by non-African staff in years. The country has been mired in civil conflict for the past 20 years, but now severe drought has pushed millions into desperation. The United Nations has declared six areas of the country famine-affected – more than a quarter of the population had been displaced by the crisis and conflict, with several hundred thousand fleeing into neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia. And inside the country, many more are displaced. Hundreds of thousands have taken shelter in makeshift settlements and camps around the capital, Mogadishu.

I visited some of those camps with two Oxfam partners, Hijra (Humanitarian Initiative Just Relief Aid) – which specialises in providing water, sanitation and hygiene – and SAACID (a Somali word meaning “to help”), whose therapeutic care centres for malnourished children and mothers are supported by Oxfam. But we were under strict security rules and told not to linger in one place for too long.

Somalia is not like most other countries. While the security situation has improved in central Mogadishu, no one takes things for granted. People still worry about getting shot or abducted, cars being targeted and explosive devices going off.

Gunshots often ring out – sometimes fired into the air by government forces or peacekeepers simply to clear traffic jams because there are no working traffic lights in the city.

Outside the capital, the security situation is even tougher. Fighting continues among the country’s rival groups and thousands of people find themselves trapped between different forces, unable to freely move and access basic food and health services.

Those who have made it to Mogadishu, often after long journeys by foot, as they flee conflict and famine, end up in the overcrowded makeshift camps dotted around the city. They live in densely packed areas in huts that are made out of plastic sheets or rag cloths supported by twigs.

It was in these crammed camps that we spent some of our time seeing how Oxfam-supported projects are providing help to those desperately in need.

Clean drinking water and sanitation is a priority, especially as the rainy season is approaching and there have already been deadly outbreaks of diarrhoea and cholera. Hijra has been installing water tanks, tapstands and chlorinating water. They have built latrines and helped and trained communities to form volunteer water, environment and sanitation committees to make sure the water sources aren’t contaminated. One group of people were energetically sweeping up garbage as we arrived to look at how the community got their water.

In Siliga camp for thousands of the displaced, I met mother of seven, Habiba Osman. “There is no problem with water now,” she said. “We have plenty of water all day long.”

She explained that so far, apart from a worrying outbreak of measles, disease outbreaks had largely been kept under control. “We have been given chlorinated water, jerry cans and soap. And we’ve been given hygiene training. We don’t have many problems here, thanks to God”, she said. “But there is a lot of hunger. We don’t have proper food distribution but we do have enough water.”

But we had lingered long enough and it was time to get back into our vehicle to our next location.

My glimpses of the city, behind the tinted windows of our car speeding as fast as it could to avoid being a sitting target, were tantalisingly brief. The legacy of war was obvious: there were many wrecked or bullet-marked buildings. But the city also showed surprising signs of brisk daily life. There were colourful hand-painted shop signs, while some traders sat on the dusty roadside, touting their wares, normally small collections of fruit and vegetables. Some sat behind sandbags, which might offer some protection if fighting flared up. Signs of commerce and of food availability were evident: but for many who fled from hunger and drought, the prices were way above what they could afford.

That’s why the centres that offered some basic help were packed. At one community based therapeutic care centre run by SAACID, staff were working flat-out as mothers and their children continued to stream in.

In one area, health promoters were explaining good healthcare practices to young mothers, and why it was important to breastfeed; in another, children were being vaccinated against measles; and in yet another section, the frailest of children were being assessed and weighed. Almost all were malnourished, some dangerously so. Mothers coming here will receive therapeutic food to help their child’s recovery.

Hawee Mohammed, 35, had brought in her seven-month-old son, Ibrahim. He weighed just 4.7 kilos – almost half the normal weight for a child of his age.

The family moved to Mogadishu from Bay region, an area declared famine-hit by the UN after their animals died and the children got sick. Hawee told me Ibrahim’s twin brother died of diarrhoea and she was desperate to get help for Ibrahim, who had a high fever.

“There are many people who are in a similar situation to me, or even worse off”, Hawee said. “The situation is terrible.”

As in most crises, it is the youngest who are the most vulnerable. Hundreds of thousands are dangerously malnourished in a country which has the world’s highest mortality rate for children under the age of five.

They desperately need help. The famine in Somalia shows no sign of easing and tens of thousands of people have died. The UN says 750,000 people are at risk of starvation. As I saw on my visit, aid is getting into Somalia. But the problem is that it is still nowhere on the scale needed.

Caroline Gluck is a field-based press officer for Oxfam.

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Nissi Beach on Cyprus. Image: Leonid Mamchenkov

Nissi Beach on Cyprus. Image: Leonid Mamchenkov

By Alex Bell
Alex Bell is the author of Peak Water: Civilisation and the world’s water crisis,which is available on Amazon.

Cyprus is predicted to become the first part of the European Union to run out of water. A spokesman at the EU Commission said the Mediterranean island was Europe’s ‘front line’ in the war against diminishing water resources.

Divided by war in 1974, the former British colony has been consumed by the rivalry between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The generation-old conflict has obscured the environmental disaster that has empty reservoirs, led to water rationing and is killing the island’s ecosystem.

Rainfall in Cyprus has dropped by 15% since the 1970’s. Since then the country has been parched by long droughts broken briefly by occasional downpours.

Engineers say water reserves can only reach half of what they were in the 1960’s, and that is during wet periods.

Things are likely to get significantly worse. Walter Gammeltoft, known in the EU Commission as ‘Mr Water’ and the head of the Commission’s research into water and climate change, says all predictions show Cyprus getting up to 20% less water by 2050.

“Water is how we will feel the impact of climate change. Either too much or too little of it. Cyprus is in the front line of water shortages for the EU,” says Gammeltoft.

The Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia has decided to make a dash for desalination and is building three new plants. But converting the salty sea into drinking water cannot replace the loss in natural supply.

The Environment Commissioner of Cyprus predicts that while the taps will run for the urban population, the land will wither and die from drought.

Cyprus has chosen desalination plants powered by oil-fired electricity stations, thus contributing to the fossil fuel emissions that are thought to be accelerating climate change. The EU has demanded an Environmental impact assessment report on the island’s water policy. Sources suggest this may result in the whole water management regime being called into question.

The boom in tourism and holiday home construction and the modernization of the economy has resulted in higher water use per capita. Any challenge to Nicosia’s water policy would raise questions about its economic future. The end of the property bubble coupled to declining tourist numbers and the high value of the Euro have already put unemployment up and GDP down.

The crisis has given new credibility to a scheme to build a pipeline from Turkey to Cyprus supplying fresh water. A private plan to lay a plastic tube on the seabed the 75km from coast to coast has won the interest of the European Investment Bank and a consortium of banks and oil companies. However, as the plan would mean handing control of water to the Greek Cypriots sworn enemies in Ankara, the scheme is unlikely to proceed until the water shortage becomes desperate.

Alex Bell is the author of Peak Water: Civilisation and the world’s water crisis, which is available on Amazon.